WHILE MOST pigmeat imported into the UK comes from Holland and Denmark, the supply from other countries like Ireland and France is on the increase.

Generally, other European countries stick to the basic EU standards, except where they have specific contracts for UK supermarkets which require stall and tether-free production.

In Ireland, space allowances, flooring requirements and ventilation are all set to EU standards in the legislation, though Teagasc pig specialist Michael Martin says that, in practice, these are often exceeded. The average space for a 100kg pig in Ireland is 0.75m sq compared with the 0.65m sq EU minimum.

About 17% of Irish pigs are also reared to UK supermarket standards, typically on contract with Grampian for export to Northern Ireland, or on Glanbia”s premium contract. But a growing number are converting to loose sow housing, with an eye on 2013 when it will become compulsory.

The vast majority of producers (95%) are also members of the Bord Bia Pig Quality Assurance Scheme. This involves auditing by factory inspectors, though from this summer the scheme will be relaunched to include independent auditing, says Bord Bia”s John Keane.

Quality assurance is also widespread in France, where there are three main schemes, Certification Conformit Produit, Label Rouge and Porc Biologique (Organic). According to figures from the Institut Technique du Porc, about 44% of French producers, with 63% of French pigmeat, are covered by these schemes.

The most important is the CCP, with about 4500 members, producing 6.5m pigs.

As in most other EU countries, there is a move towards group housing of sows in preparation for the 2013 change in EU law. But there is still a surprisingly high use of tethers in the country, which will have to be removed by the end of this year.

The latest data shows that about 11% of French sows are attached with tethers during gestation, corresponding to 17% of farms. Some 63% of French dry sows are confined in stalls.

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Sow stalls are also common in the USA, particularly in the southern states and on larger farms. For example, 70% of farms with more than 500 sows use stalls compared with just 6% on farms with less than 250. About 16% of sows are loose housed indoors and another 15% live in open buildings with outside access.

There are no legal requirements with respect to space for finishers, though many states make recommendations that are not dissimilar to EU standards (see table on p16).

One of the main areas of difference is feeding, with US pigs still fed non-porcine meat and bonemeal, as well as animal fat and restaurant recyclables, principally cooking oils. Antibiotic growth promoters are still regularly used, though the National Pork Board is encouraging its members to cut back. And there are no age restrictions on castration, though most are done within one week of birth.

One area where US farmers face stricter demands than their EU competitors is in air quality. Odour is a big issue in many pig-producing states and producers have to keep to strict manure management plans. In Iowa, which has a quarter of the country”s pigs, about 60% of producers practice total manure containment, with slurry stored below ground to minimise smell.

All producers must be certified under the Pork Quality Assurance scheme in the USA. “This is a farmer-run program administered through the National Pork Board,” says Jen Holtkamp of the Iowa Pork Board. “Younger producers also go through the Youth Pork Quality Assurance program and there is a voluntary Swine Welfare Assurance Program.” Some abattoirs may require this and there are numerous other market specific programmes, though none designed to meet UK requirements.